How to turn a beauty start-up into a success


Top tips for growing a business from The Konjac Sponge Co's Michele Riley

Five years ago, Michele Riley launched The Konjac Sponge Co with just £6,000, having spotted the novel beauty accessory being used to remove make-up at a trade show. Today, The Konjac Sponge Co exports its range of Korea-made, natural, vegetable sponges to 56 countries, and the Konjac Sponge has become an essential part of many consumers' cleansing routines.

How to turn a beauty start-up into a success

Talking at a CEW UK (Cosmetic Executive Women) Mentoring Event in London, on 21 January, Riley presented her top tips for successfully establishing and growing a beauty business:

  • Use social media. Instantly, I was able to create a social media presence that engaged bloggers and I noticed in the beginning that within minutes of talking with someone over social media that orders were coming in via the website. The hype for The Konjac Sponge Co was really generated on Twitter, Facebook and at a single trade show [Natural & Organic Products Europe, 2011].
  • Work with people who are as passionate and enthusiastic about the brand as you are. It's important that your distributors, for example, are excited about the product.
  • Build close customer relations, see your buyers, get to know people. And network – without CEW I wouldn't be where I am now.
  • Enter awards, even if you don't expect to win anything! We love entering and seem to do quite well [nine awards to date].
  • Protect and trademark your brand. If you don't register your trademark, there is a risk that someone else might. You can register a UK trademark yourself for a small fee. The 'TM' means you can use it as a trademark the 'R' means it's registered. The worst that can happen is that it is rejected and you can appeal. Also, buy up every domain name that could get linked back to your company!
  • Travel – visit the people with whom you are working. I will meet every new distributor; there is so much local knowledge you can gain from visiting them. And your manufacturers too. We visited the Korean factory for the first time in 2014. We have daily contact with them, but going there and seeing it and going again last year cemented that relationship. We now have a ten-year manufacturing contract whereby they will not supply anyone else in 70 countries.
  • Keep an eye on the competition! We've found copies of our brand on Alibaba and in the US on Amazon.
  • Put in every hour you have.
  • Listen to your gut instinct. I think as a customer all the time and ask myself, what is my gut instinct as a customer?